For the final installment of our coaches interview series, we get the opportunity to pick the brain of Athlete Development Group and Charm City Cycling boss Kris Auer. Along with coaching several top East Coast cyclocrossers, Kris is also an accomplished racer. His one request to me in doing this interview was “make me sound cool.”
If you have ever seen Kris or his black-and-blue C3 cadre at a race, you know this really isn’t an issue. Kris and C3 exude coolness. Case in point: late this past season he outfitted his squad in Karate Kid-inspired skinsuits and still had the most badass looking team on the block.
I first met Kris after having a complete meltdown following the 2007 Charm City Cyclocross race. I finished pretty high up in the cat 4 race but my name was dropped from the final result. In the grand scheme of things, I realize this is not the most pressing issue for a race promoter but Kris took the time to talk me down, apologize for the screw-up, and ultimately set things right. Not everybody that puts on a race is going to do that. For me, that shows he cares not only about the sport as a whole but also for the small fries like me that show up to try their best.
In my interviews with podium finishers, Kris has appeared as an interviewee and also a recipient of many a shout-out from athletes he coaches. During our Capital Cross coverage he provided one of my favorite pieces of advice: “Always hit the line with a good attitude. You don’t need a smile on your face but be excited to race.” For more from Kris, let’s go to the interview.
CXHairs: When did you start cycling?
AUER: I always rode but started competing in 1987.
CXHairs: How did you get interested in the sport?
AUER: I always had a fascination with bikes, but only learned from a friend about the sporting side. The two of us and a third started the first public high school cycling team in New England racing in the Prep school league.
CXHairs: Did you come to cycling from another sport?
AUER: I was playing soccer but nothing serious.
CXHairs: Anybody in your family race bikes?
AUER: Not a one.
CXHairs: Did you grow up following professional cycling?
AUER: From the age of 15 on. I followed it religiously.
CXHairs: What made you decide you wanted to coach?
AUER: I never thought of it until a few people asked me if I would consider coaching them.
CXHairs: What training/education/experience did you draw on to prepare for coaching clients?
AUER: I draw mostly on experiences racing as a professional, a short stint in Europe and years riding, reading and learning. I do have some formal training but most is self taught through trial and error.
CXHairs: Do you coach only cyclists? Only CX? Any triathletes?
AUER: I coach, cycling with a cross specialty but also coach runners and multi-sport athletes.
CXHairs: Are most of your clients serious racers or do some come to you just to get in better shape or maybe finish a century?
AUER: Most are racers but several are just looking to do a good event such as a century or hill-climb.
CXHairs: Do you have any Web-only clients?
CXHairs: For clients that you see face-to-face, is most of the coaching relationship online? For me, it’s nice to be able to upload files and chat via e-mail with my coach, but it’s also nice to know that if I want to borrow a wheelset he’s not across the country.
AUER: A healthy chunk of it is, but I have the added bonus of seeing many of my clients at local events. I’m not one to say no if I can lend an additional hand.
CXHairs: Do you have a coaching philosophy? What is it?
AUER: I call it a “Guts” philosophy. I back it up with science and experience but it’s the “soul” of the rider that makes it great.
CXHairs: Do you focus just on workouts or do you also give your clients advice on race strategy, nutrition, technique, etc?
AUER: All of the above. Hitting on just one, won’t give you a complete picture.
CXHairs: What, if any, are the main differences between coaching road and cyclocross racers?
AUER: It’s the type of efforts and length of time. The basics are the same, it’s the application of those basics that make the difference.
CXHairs: What is the biggest misconception people have about a coach’s role?
AUER: That a coach will make you faster. A coach can facilitate better training and better racing but the lions share of the work is still upon the rider.
CXHairs: What do you believe is the biggest benefit a coach can provide?
AUER: Focus. If I had to pick one. It also gives them someone to bounce their own ideas off and provide support when it’s needed.
CXHairs: The people reading this most likely race cross. What is one thing they can do for next season that will make them faster?
CXHairs: Is it just me, or do most clients say things like “geez I absolutely suck on the bike” hoping you will tell them how great they are?
AUER: I don’t get that too much.
CXHairs: Do most of your clients train with power? What are the benefits and the pitfalls?
AUER: It’s a mixed bag on clients with power vs. those without. The benefits would be the specificity and analysis of each workout. The pitfall would be too much emphasis on power and numbers. There is a whole lot more to riding and racing a bike than watts per kilogram. From a pure training standpoint it is the most specific but we can get the job done with or without it.
CXHairs: During the race season, how much feedback do you get from your clients and are you able to successfully modify or fine tune training to optimize results?
AUER: The clients that maintain their logs daily get the best benefits. I have some folks who are religious and some who send me huge blocks all at once and others that don’t send anything. Funny thing is it often seems to work with all three. I would say that the daily updates let me key in to a riders need for rest a little quicker than I would otherwise.
CXHairs: Have you ever had a client willing to pay you but not do the work? How did you or would you handle that situation? At what point do you consider firing a client? Ever had to do it?
AUER: I have had one for sure maybe a few. Some people want the coach but really just want someone validating the training they really want to do even if it’s not going to be a big help to them. I try to work it out if I see someone not responding but at the end of the day it is again on them. I do my best to help and in the one case I absolutely had, we worked it out and the results really started happening.
CXHairs: Other than being interviewed on “In The Crosshairs,” what is your proudest coaching achievement?
AUER: Every time someone gives me a positive update. If I had to pick one it was a junior rider who was going through a real tough time hitting the podium at nationals one year. I knew what he had to go through to get there. I couldn’t have been prouder than if he were my own son.
CXHairs: Does your coaching and racing ever conflict? How do you balance your own goals with those of your clients?
AUER: Not too much. I race for fun mostly even though I always try to throw down as much as I can. I personally only focus on a few events each year. The rest is gravy.
I have turned down one coaching request from a peer in my own age category. We’re good friends and tough competition for each other, I didn’t want to mess that up and he is one of the few who drive me to do better.
CXHairs: POP QUIZ: I consistently finished between 15th and 20th of every race I entered this past CX season. My goal for next year is top 10s. What do you need to know about me to help me reach this goal?
AUER: I’d need to know what you’ve been up to prior to the season and whether you’re trying to have a successful summer and autumn season or just cross. I’d also want to know what you feel your strengths and weaknesses and where you see yourself improving. Hooking up for some face-time and ride-time would move things along.
CXHairs: How are the preparations for the ’09 Charm City coming along?
AUER: So far so good. Work started the day it ended. We did upgrade to UCI status for 2009. There will be some new stuff coming your way. We’re trying to take it up another level. You’ll see Rockburn flying the C3 flag this year as well.
For more information about Athlete Development Group or Charm City Cycling, contact Kris at ADGCROSS@gmail.com.